TOPEKA, Kan. – Conservative Kansas legislators are pushing back more aggressively this year on LGBTQ-rights issues than in the past two years, with proposals to ban gender-affirming care for trangender youth and restrict how public schools discuss sexual orientation and gender identity.
Top Republican lawmakers on Tuesday outlined an agenda for the year that includes culture war issues pursued by Republicans in other states, including a ban on transgender athletes in girls' and women's K-12, club and college sports. Their broader agenda on LGBTQ-rights issues this year in Kansas also comes after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly narrowly won reelection in November despite GOP attacks over her vetoes of two bills restricting transgender athletes.
On LGBTQ-rights issues, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature focused in 2021 and 2022 on trangender athletes. Lawmakers haven't considered a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth or bills to restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use. Proposals on what schools teach on history and sexuality have not gone as far as a Florida law derided by critics as a “Don't Say Gay” policy.
State Rep. Heather Meyer, a bisexual Kansas City-area Democrat with a transgender son, said this year, for GOP lawmakers, “It sounds like that the bigots are the priority, not our children.”
“They want to make it so that it’s like we never existed, so like the LGBTQ community is invisible,” she said.
Top Republican lawmakers pledged to keep pushing for a laws restricting transgender athletes. Eighteen states have such laws, including Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the nonprofit, pro-LGBTQ-rights Movement Advancement Project think tank.
Supporters of such laws argue that they preserve fairness in competition and college scholarship opportunities for what they call “biological” women.
As Kelly ran for reelection, her campaign said she believes decisions about transgender athletes should be made by schools, doctors, families and local officials. That statement came after she declared in a television ad that, “Of course men should not play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree there."
Two of the Legislature's most conservative Republicans, state Sens. Mark Steffen, from south-central Kansas, and Mike Thompson, from the Kansas City area, introduced a bill that would make it illegal to perform gender-affirming surgery or provide hormone therapy or puberty-blocking medications to anyone under 21. Doctors would face having their medical licenses suspended or revoked for “professional incompetency.”
Arkansas bans such care for minors; Alabama makes it a felony, and Arizona bans gender-affirming surgery for minors. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order last year treating gender-affirming care as child abuse. Proposals have been introduced in at least 10 other states.
“It’s a way of trying to protect these children from what could be life-altering and irreversible types of medical and chemical procedures,” Thompson told reporters after his bill was introduced.
It's not clear how much support the measure has, and a hearing has yet to be scheduled. Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, expressed a willingness to consider the idea.
But Kelly is certain to be a big obstacle to such a policy. Asked about the proposal, Kelly told reporters Tuesday, “You can just imagine what I think of that.”
State Rep. Brandon Woodard, a gay Kansas City-area Democrat, called the measure “a garbage bill.”
“Gender-affirming care is live-saving and this bill is dangerous, hateful and will lead to death by suicide,” he said.
During a Statehouse news conference for introducing GOP leaders' agenda, Masterson decried what he called a “sexualized, woke agenda" in public schools. Later, he told reporters that he wants to pursue a law that would spell out limits on what schools can teach or discuss about sexuality issues by grade level.
Masterson said he's worried about schools focusing on people's “innate characteristics” and “dividing us up into different groups.”
“We've gotten completely away from, basically, fundamental academics,” he said. “And it's not helping our children.”
But state Rep. Susan Ruiz, a lesbian Kansas City-area Democrat, said the “radical right” is creating the problems.
“These are just kids who are trying to understand themselves,” she said. “They are coming after children who are vulnerable.”
Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna